The Importance of Early Diagnosis of Autism


The symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder can be observed in children younger than 2 years old, although it cannot be reliably diagnosed yet.

Introduction of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)


Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that causes difficulties in an individual's ability to socialize, interact and communicate. People with autism usually have problems with verbal and non-verbal language (“Autism - what is it?”, 2016). Some examples of non-verbal language is body language such as gestures, facial expressions, as well as the tone of a person’s voice. Furthermore, as they have a literal understanding of languages, they usually have difficulties understanding jokes, sarcasms, idioms, etc (“Autism - what is it?”, 2016). Likewise, they have difficulties understanding emotions and ‘reading’ them, thus making them seem insensitive or aloof. Aside from social communication and interaction, they may display restricted, repetitive interest in objects, patterns and behaviors. People with autism prefer routine as it provides them a sense of comfort and reduces anxiety when they feel that they are in an unpredictable and confusing world (“Autism - what is it?”, 2016). Additionally, they have intense interests that have a broad range from music to arts, and this can change over the course of their lives. They may also experience sensory sensitivity which can be due to an under-stimulation or over-stimulation of different senses around them (“Autism - what is it?”, 2016) . These can cause great discomfort, anxiety and inconveniences in the individual’s and caregivers’ lives.


Measures taken when parents suspect their child of autism


The symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder can be observed in children younger than 2 years old, although it cannot be reliably diagnosed yet. Therefore, if parents have suspicions, they can first bring their child to a general practitioner or paediatrician and seek their advice. Part of the role of these professionals is to look into the development of the child, to ensure that the child is achieving their developmental milestones (“Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, n.d”). One of the early indicators of autism which they would look out for is the lack of social communication skills in toddlers - whether the child displays behaviours such as smiling at/with an adult, eye contact, if they look at an adult talking and respond appropriately, as well as using gestures to gain attention, request or reject (“Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, n.d”).


Moving forward, they may refer the child to a psychologist or a psychiatrist to have them assessed. The assessment would provide a diagnosis that may help parents gain more clarity in why their child behaves in certain ways. This will also help therapists, psychologists and special educational teachers formulate appropriate goals to work on with your child. In turn, this helps your child optimise his learning and reach their fullest potential (“Autism Spectrum Disorders Diagnosis, Assessment & Treatment”, n.d). In instances where a general practitioner or pediatrician does not observe any behaviors of concern, there might not be a referred assessment. However, if the child’s parents are still worried, they should look for a second opinion as it is crucial for children to be diagnosed early in order to find appropriate help and intervention.


Importance of early diagnosis and Early intervention


Many researches have shown that early diagnosis is important as it leads to early intervention. Early intervention is crucial in improving how people with autism function in their daily lives.


As the symptoms experienced can impact people with autism to different degrees, it can mildly or severely impact their way of living. Furthermore, these symptoms can change as they grow.


“Clinical impact of early diagnosis of autism on the prognosis and parent-child relationships” is an article written by Elder et al (2017) on the change of symptoms in the lifespan of people with autism. It writes that “language difficulties and hyperactivity that is often seen in younger children can shift to relational problems, mood dysregulation, and hypoactivity in adolescence and young adulthood”. This indicates that symptoms can change forms as the children grow older (Elder et al., 2017). However, this would reduce significantly when children receive intervention at a young age (Zwaigenbaum et al., 2009).


Additionally, it would be easier to correct inappropriate habits and behaviour in younger children then in older children (Zuckerman, 2020) . When children are diagnosed at a later age, they might have already developed rigidity in their routines, way of thinking and doing things. This will in turn affect the children’s ability to learn and gain new skills. It will also be more difficult for parents to manage behaviours at home (Zuckerman, 2020). Research has also shown that having intervention before the age of 4 years old is associated with significant progress in cognitive, language and daily living skills (Zwaigenbaum, Bauman, Stone, et al. 2015). A delay in diagnosis does not only affect early invention, it also increases stress in parents as well. This is because parents of children diagnosed with Autism are faced with various challenges such as managing behavioral problems, the lack of ability to reciprocate as well as communicate socially and the level of adaptive skills their child possesses (Estes et al., 2013). Parents’ stress level increases when they are unable to properly interact with their child to form a meaningful relationship with them. Additionally, when their child displays “unusual language and communication patterns such as stereotyped speech and odd ritualistic behaviors” in public, it could cause people to judge (Estes et al., 2013). Furthermore, the level of adaptive skills of a child will also affect the parents’ stress level. The lower the level of adaptive skill, the more support the child requires from the parents (Estes et al., 2009). Therefore, early diagnosis is very important as it enables parents to look for appropriate help and intervention based on the child's level of functioning.


Conclusion


Research has shown the many benefits of having children with autism diagnosed early. Early diagnosis results in early intervention which has been linked to providing positive results benefiting both children with autism as well as their parents and caregivers. This is because when early intervention is sought out, treatment even at its lowest intensity can still result in significant progress as it is done during the period where optimal changes can be made (Volkmar, 2014). Furthermore, interventions usually work towards goals based on specific concerns that are functional and appropriate for the children’s milestones (Zwaigenbaum, Bauman, Stone, et al. (2015) . Interventions also help to support parents throughout the uncertain process as there will be professionals at hand to help them through it. To facilitate early diagnosis, it is important for parents to have an understanding of ASD as a whole and the benefits of early intervention. With better understanding, better choices can also be made. Where possible, seek early intervention.


Written by Venezia.



References:


Autism - what is it? (2016, June 8). Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asd.aspx


Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved July 18, 2020, from https://www.babybonus.msf.gov.sg/parentingresources/web/Special-Needs/Well-Being/Diagnosis/Specialneeds_ASD_Signs?_adf.ctrl-state=ef46k643u_4


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